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Costa Rica Trip Report - Manuel Antonio, Osa, Arenal, Tamarindo

Costa Rica Trip Report - Manuel Antonio, Osa, Arenal, Tamarindo

Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:11 AM
  #1  
Iza
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Costa Rica Trip Report - Manuel Antonio, Osa, Arenal, Tamarindo

This is another try!
My husband, our 7 year old daughter and I are just back from our trip to Costa Rica (Aug 4-18). This was our second trip to Costa Rica. We were there in August of last year and felt that we didnít have enough so we decided to do it all the way this year and spend two weeks. We had a great time. This forum has been invaluable in providing us with advice and tips. Thanks to all Fodorites who replied to my questions and posted trip reports.
Here is our trip report:
Day 1 - we took a direct flight from Newark NJ to San Jose on Continental. The flight time was only 5 hours and 20 mins, the plane was on time, and we were at the pool at our first hotel in the early afternoon of our first day. We spent our first and last nights at Vista del Valle outside of San Jose. Vista del Valle has been highly recommended by a lot of people on this forum and we enjoyed it too. It is a very low key, pleasant and homey place. We were picked up at the airport by a driver from Vista del Valle. We had one of their Exotic Wood Suites (Caobilla) which has a little kitchenette between the rooms. It has a queen size bed and a little futon sofa. On the first afternoon we spent an hour or so in their pool and hot tub. After that it started pouring rain so we went to our room, sat on the deck and played cards for the rest of the evening. It cleared enough for us to have dinner in their open air dining room that night. It rained again all night, though, which made it impossible for us to hike to Vista del Valleís waterfall as the trail was too slippery. The highlight of the evening was the discovery of a huge black spider in our shower which my husband bravely took outside in a glass.
Days 2-4 - The next morning we woke up early to a chorus of various birds and insects, made some coffee and sat on the deck admiring the view of the surrounding mountains. Then we had a good Costa Rican breakfast and spent the morning walking around the property and admiring the hotel ownerís new baby horse that was born only a week before. (As an aside since I did not post a trip report last year: another option for accommodations in that area is the beautiful Xandari Hotel where we stayed for a couple of nights last year. I personally preferred Xandari to Vista del Valle. The hotel grounds and the rooms at Xandari are more spacious and the views of the Central Valley from Xandari are spectacular. Vista del Valle is more cozy and homey, with the owners stopping by and chatting to the guests at dinner and breakfast. Xandari has a bit more formal atmosphere and if you are looking for seclusion that is the place to be. Vista del Valle was very pleasant and I wouldnít mind going back, but Xandari was just spectacular.)
Later that morning we left the San Jose area to travel to Manuel Antonio. The Vista del Valle driver picked us from our room to take us to the airport for our 1pm SANSA flight to Quepos. The flight lasted only half an hour, was on time and fine. SANSA flies bigger planes than Travelair, the other domestic airline in CR, and had 2 pilots on this flight. When I say bigger, I donít mean big planes - they are all 10-12 passenger planes. They weighed our luggage which was a few pounds more than the 25lbs per person they allow but they didnít make us pay extra. Last year Travelair required us to pay extra on a flight we took from San Jose to Tamarindo.
To be continued
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:12 AM
  #2  
Iza
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Part 2
On our arrival in Quepos we took the SANSA shuttle to our hotel, Si Como No. At Si Como No we had a deluxe room (#8) which was very pleasant and spacious with a wonderful view from the balcony. The room had high beam ceilings, a wet bar with a small fridge and 2 king size beds (our daughter thought she was very special to have a king size bed all to herself!). The room also had A/C but we really did not need it or use it. The first afternoon we had a pleasant late lunch at their poolside restaurant Rico Tico and spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool and on the deck. The weather was cool and cloudy although it didnít rain. Our daughter found some company in the pool and enjoyed the water slide with the other kids. We had dinner that night at the second restaurant at Si Como No which is more formal and more expensive. My husband had grilled tuna and I had beef tenderloin (sharing with my daughter), both very good.
The next day the weather was beautiful but it unfortunately was Monday so the Manuel Antonio National Park was closed. We decided to do some exploring instead and walked down the hill to a beautiful little secluded beach called Playa Biesanz. It was about a half an hour walk but it was up and down hills and was very hot coming back at lunch time. We enjoyed our morning there playing in the water which was clear and fairly calm. We walked back at lunch time and had pizza at a small ďNY styleĒ pizza place along the main road. It wasnít anything great but my daughter enjoyed it. We then walked back to our hotel and since the weather was good decided to go to the main beach in Manuel Antonio which is outside of the park. We took the local bus to get there (the fare was less than $1 for the three of us!) and spent the afternoon there. That beach was beautiful and had huge waives (with a lot of people surfing); you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas right there. We had dinner at Karolaís which is just a few minutes walk from Si Como No. We had ceviche for appetizer, and my husband and I both had fresh grilled mahi mahi and our daughter had shrimp. This was the best dinner of the whole trip and their margaritas are excellent. Karolaís is on the expensive side but worth it.
The next day we left for the Manuel Antonio National Park right after breakfast (by the way, breakfast at Si Como No is very good - I especially liked their granola). We took lunch with us (sandwiches and water from the Pickles Deli located right next door to Si Como No; they rent coolers) so that we could spend the whole day at the park. We took the free shuttle to the park that Si Como No provides for the guests. At the park we hired a local guide and were very glad we did ($50 for 2-3 hours for the three of us). With his help we saw 2 kinds of monkeys, both a three toed and a two toed sloth, a variety of birds and insects. It was drizzling in the morning but cleared up just in time for us to enjoy lunch and a couple of hours on the main beach in the Park (Playa Manuel Antonio). The water there is green in color and calm so even kids can swim safely. In the early afternoon we hiked to Punta Catedral which was very hot and humid but had great views and then we walked along the first beach to the park exit (you have to wade through a knee deep stream to get out of the park). We returned to Si Como No on the hotel shuttle, spent an hour or so at the pool (it became cloudy again) and then had dinner at Rico Tico (I had an excellent mahi mahi salad).
Si Como No bought a property right next door to the hotel and are adding several new buildings and a new pool. There is major construction going on but other than seeing it when driving by we were not bothered by it at all and did not hear it. Our room was located on the other side of the property.
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:13 AM
  #3  
Iza
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Part 3
Days 5-7 - On our 5th day we left right after breakfast to go to the airport (we took the Travelair shuttle this time) to travel to Lapa Rios on the Osa Penninsula. We flew on Travelair from Quepos to Puerto Jimenez where we were picked up by Lapa Rios staff. The ride to Lapa Rios was bumpy and dusty but very scenic. When we arrived we were greeted by the manager with glasses of cold juice and were given an orientation. To give you an idea about opportunities for viewing wild life at Lapa Rios: at the start of orientation my husband told the manager that he really wanted to see toucans and asked how difficult it was to see them. The manager said that there was one right outside the restaurant earlier that day and we could go and look. Wouldnít you know - there were several toucans on the tree right in front of us as if waiting to greet us! We had bungalow #14 which is the farthest from the restaurant and the pool (my daughter counted that there are 200 steps between #14 and the lodge). We were not bothered by that because that walk allowed us to see plenty of wildlife along the way and was good exercise - you just had to remember to take everything you needed with you because it wasnít easy just to go back to pick some forgotten item. After unpacking in our room we returned to the restaurant for lunch (excellent chilled soup and chicken burrito). In the afternoon we wanted to take the self guided hike but it was raining. It cleared in time for us to walk to the beach and back while it was still light - the beach is very pretty and we were the only people there. We had a nice dinner that night. The next day we took the self guided hike through the rainforest on our own, which combined with another walk to the beach took all morning, got really hot and sweaty and decided to spend the afternoon by the pool and on our deck. We had another nice dinner that night, although I personally thought that lunches were better than dinners at Lapa Rios. On our last day there we visited the local school and took a hike (the Medicine Walk) with Augusto, the local shaman. That hike was very interesting, I didnít realize how much of the modern medicine relies on plant extracts from the rain forest. Unfortunately, most other hikes offered were too difficult/long for our daughter so we did not do any more. I regret not taking the Early Bird tour which I think gave the most opportunities for viewing the wildlife. The most wildlife we saw was from our deck: squirrel monkeys came several times, family of coati mundis, scarlet macaws flew by several times, parakeets, toucans, bats and a variety of other birds, lizards, insects etc. Lapa Rios was great in that respect, but I have to say that I did not like it as much as other people who went there. The place has a very remote and isolated feel to it and at times it would really bother me. We had a gorgeous view from our deck but the weather was mostly cloudy and stormy and seeing those dark clouds and lightning in the distance with no sign of life for miles around was a bit disconcerting. My feelings about Lapa Rios are mixed: being surrounded by wildlife was great, the service and food were first class, but it was uncomfortably humid (although not as hot as I expected), the accommodations are a bit tired (the cheap deck and pool chairs were really uncomfortable) and as I said I felt uncomfortable being so isolated from civilization.
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:14 AM
  #4  
Iza
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Part 4
Days 8 and 9 - we left Lapa Rios right after breakfast and took a Travelair flight back to San Jose. Both Travelair flights we took were somewhat late and the planes were very small (5 passengers) with one pilot. At the airport in San Jose we were met by a representative from Dollar Rent a Car with our rental car (we decided to get a Nissan Pathfinder, because we wanted automatic transmission and a more comfortable and safer car than the usual Daihatsu Terios that are standard rental vehicles in CR). He took us to the main office in downtown San Jose to complete the paperwork. Before setting off to Arenal we walked around a bit, stopped at an ATM and got some cash, stopped at a pharmacy and a supermarket to get some snacks and water and had pizza at a local Pizza Hut. We set off in the early afternoon. We drove to La Fortuna through San Ramon and La Tigra which I understand is less busy and faster than going through San Carlos. It was a very scenic road going through the mountains, narrow and winding with some low clouds and fog. The drive took 3 hours and on our arrival in La Fortuna we were greeted by pouring rain. It rained on and off for the next two days there so we were not able to see the volcano except during a very brief clearing the first evening. We stayed at Hotel Arenal Paraiso which is Costa Rican owned and operated. The accommodations are in separate cabinas (ours was a ďdeluxeĒ one with a noisy fridge, A/C and TV that didnít work). The cabins are very rustic, all done in wood, but are clean and would have been acceptable had it not been for the overwhelming smell of disinfectant coming from the bathroom. Our cabin (#21) would have had a wonderful view of the volcano if it wasnít for the rain and clouds. On the first night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant which was OK. The hotel has three very nice pools with naturally heated water but we thought it was too chilly and damp to enjoy the pools. It rained all night and when we awoke the next morning, so we thought the day would be a complete wash out. We walked around the town of La Fortuna a bit and checked out some gift shops. Then it stopped raining so we decided to go to the Tabacon Hot Springs. It was only 10 am and the place was still closed so we drove to Lake Arenal for a bit and returned to the springs after 11 am. We spent most of the day at the hot springs which are very nice (if a bit crowded), playing in the various pools and walking around the beautifully landscaped gardens. That night we decided to try a local place for dinner and went to La Maca Vuca (sp?) (thanks, Lisa, for the recommendation!) which we enjoyed very much. It was very casual and the food was good.
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:16 AM
  #5  
Iza
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Part 5
Days 9-12 - after another rainy night at Arenal Paraiso we had breakfast (quite good, included in the hotel price) and since there was no chance of even glimpsing the volcano we set off on our drive to Tamarindo. The drive around Lake Arenal would have been extremely scenic, but it was pouring rain so we didnít enjoy it much. The road is very narrow and winding and mostly in poor shape (with about 1/2 hour with no pavement). It cleared up when we got to Tilaran and the remainder of the drive through Canas and Liberia were very enjoyable. It took us most of the day to get to Tamarindo because we stopped for lunch and a stroll around Liberia and then stopped at an excellent gift shop on the road from Liberia to Tamarindo where we did most our gift shopping (we bought a couple of beautiful rosewood bowls). Getting to Capitan Suizo in Tamarindo was like getting home. We stayed at Capitan Suizo last year for a few days and loved it and decided to end our trip there. We were not disappointed - again, it was our favorite place of the trip, hands down. We had bungalow #4 located just a few yards from both the beach and the pool. The bungalow was very spacious and nicely decorated, the bathroom was huge with a tub indoors and an outdoors shower. The bungalow had glass and screen floor to ceiling windows on two sides yet was very private and peaceful. It also has shady porches on two sides with pool and ocean views and with very comfortable deck chairs where we spent many a pleasant hour lounging and reading in the shade. That first night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant (food is good but not remarkable). On the second day there we drove to town to do some shopping and get some snacks and wine and spend most of the day walking on the beach, lounging by the pool and generally enjoying life. We had dinner that night at a local restaurant El Pescador, right on the beach, about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. They serve typical Costa Rican food, well prepared and inexpensive, mostly fish. My daughter and I had mahi mahi and my husband had red snapper. The next day the weather was beautiful and we decided to take a ride to Playa Conchal about half an hour from Tamarindo. It is probably one of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica with white sand and crushed shells. Getting there is a bit difficult, you have to drive along the beach and then go through some very rough terrain from Playa Brasilito. The water was very calm that day and so clear we were able to see some fish swimming around our legs. We swam and floated in the water for hours. On our way back we stopped at a local bakery and bought some nice pastries filled with chicken and beef. In the afternoon my husband and daughter went for a horseback ride arranged through the hotel. They had a great time going along the beach at sunset. That night we decided to have dinner at Capitan Suizo again since they had live marimba music. It was a very pleasant evening. On our last day, my husband and daughter went horseback riding again in the morning and we spent most of the rest day enjoying both the beach and the pool. We were tired of fish and rice and wanted to try something else for dinner. We decided to try La Meridiana (an Italian place) but it is out of business. We ended up at Stellaís where we had a surprisingly good dinner (ravioli for me, veal for my husband and pizza for our daughter).
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 08:17 AM
  #6  
Iza
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Part 6
Day 13 - We were very sad to leave Capitan Suizo that morning. We set off right after breakfast, driving to Tempisque River ferry. It was a very beautiful drive through the countryside, with cows and horses everywhere. If you take that ferry make sure you arrive early. We were lucky to wait only a little bit over an hour, but there was a long line of cars after us that were in for at least a 2-3 hour wait. The whole trip from Tamarindo to Vista del Valle took us 5 and 1/2 hours. Driving on the Pan-American Highway through the mountains with all the trucks was quite scary. Fortunately we had good weather all the way. Upon arrival at Vista del Valle we decided to take a drive to Sarchi, a town nearby known for its crafts and gift shops. Upon return to Vista del Valle we spent an hour in the hot tub before being chased to our room by rain. We had a pleasant dinner that night, there was only one other couple staying at the hotel so it was very quiet.

Day 14 - The next morning we had a nice breakfast and wanted to hike to the waterfall, but it rained most of the night and was too slippery again. We visited the baby horse again, sat on the deck and admired the view some more (this time we had a different Exotic Wood Suite - Ceibo, with a beautiful view of the Rio Grande Canyon Preserve) and set off to the airport to return our car and get ready for our flight back home. We returned the car without any mishaps (other than driving around in circles trying to find the Dollar office). Then we waited at the airport for a couple of hours and got on the plane (which was on time again).

Some practical tips:
Money: we took some cash with us and also used ATMs twice in CR without any problem. Most places accept dollars and give you change in colones. Some of the small local restaurants do not accept credit cards.
Reservations: I made all arrangements by e-mail and fax. Vista del Valle and Lapa Rios asked for prepayment by check (which worked out fine), all other places asked for credit card # to hold the reservations. We paid by credit card upon checkout. Vista del Valle and Lapa Rios made our in-country flight arrangements.
Car rental and driving: I would strongly recommend renting a larger car like we did. It was expensive ($480 per week, including insurance) but worth it. It was comfortable and felt very safe. The 4 wheel drive came in handy a couple of times. We felt safe driving overall but took the usual precautions (donít drive after dark; donít leave valuables in the car). We had no problems.
Water and food: we drank both bottled and regular water, ate at local places and did not get sick at all. Make sure you drink water all the time. It is easy to get dehydrated.
What to pack: a pair of hiking boots, Teva type sandals and flip-flops for the pool and beach; plenty of shorts and t-shirts; a couple of lightweight long pants and long sleeve shirts (came in handy in the Arenal area which was on the cold side and damp); a waterproof jacket or poncho; plenty of sunscreen and film for your camera; insect repellant and a good flashlight. Lapa Rios had rubber boots for guests that we used on the hikes as it was very muddy. You donít need dress-up clothes anywhere - it was very casual wherever we went.
Language: We speak no Spanish and did fine. Staff at all of the hotels and most restaurants we went to spoke English. Some Spanish would come in handy in local stores and when asking for directions. But we did fine with a small phrase book and a dictionary. Everybody we met, including people on the street we asked for directions, was very pleasant and helpful.

If you have any questions please post them here and I will try to answer.
 
Aug 22nd, 2001, 10:19 AM
  #7  
lisa
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Very nice report! Too bad you didn't have better weather, but I guess it is the rainy season. I have noticed that the people who have been less than thrilled with Lapa Rios seem to have been there in the rainy season and I wonder how much that factors into the experience, because we had great weather when we were there and I think we enjoyed it more. I know what you mean about the remoteness of it, but for us that was one of the attractions (although I don't know that I would have felt that way if I had a child with me). I am impressed that you did all this with your 7-year-old. She must be a hardy soul and a good traveller. Glad you liked La Vaca Muca.
 
Aug 23rd, 2001, 07:53 AM
  #8  
Dot
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Just read your report - it was wonderful to read it..thank you.
My husband and I will be going the first week in December..we have never been before and are staying at an all-inclusive on the pacific side. I appreciate what you listed as far as what to bring/and money. I do have one question -- did you hav to get any shots to go there, or take any medicine beorehand? We won't be renting a car since we'll only be there for 7 days. We are really looking forward to this trip! Thank you
 
Aug 23rd, 2001, 10:52 AM
  #9  
GP
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Wonderful report.
I am thinking about going to CR with my wife, can you give me a ball park cost of your trip excluding the airfare from the US to CR?

Thanks

GP Moloney

 
Aug 23rd, 2001, 11:09 AM
  #10  
Iza
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Dot, there are no required shots or medication although some may be recommended. We decided not to get any shots and our daughter has all the required shots, so we felt pretty safe.
I think you can get a lot of information on the Department of State website, and also check with your local travel clinic.
 
Aug 23rd, 2001, 11:23 AM
  #11  
Iza
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Our trip was on the expensive side, our budget was around $6K for two weeks excluding air. We stayed in high end places though and you can do it much less expensively than that.
 
Feb 13th, 2002, 09:05 AM
  #12  
Iza
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For Kate.

The e-mail address I listed on the report does not work any more, so if you have any specific questions please post here.
 
Feb 28th, 2002, 03:03 PM
  #13  
Rob
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I am thinking of going to Costa Rica in June and staying at the Marriott in Los Suenos for 7 days. Is it possible to take day trips and have a really great trip while staying only there, or would you really recommend traveling around and seeing more? Is there enough to see that is accessible from Los Suenos? I can stay at the Marriott using rewards points, so it would be a lot cheaper for me. Thanks.
 
Mar 1st, 2002, 04:44 AM
  #14  
Iza
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I am not sure where exactly Los Suenos is located but I believe that it is in the Punta Leona/Jaco area. If that is the case you can do day trips from there - you should go to Manuel Antonio National Park (definitely go with a guide), there are probably other tours offered by the hotel as well. You should e-mail them and find out.
As to whether you should stay in one area or travel more, it is really up to you. On our first trip to Costa Rica we opted to stay 6 days in Tamarindo and a couple of days in San Jose area and just did day trips from there. We did not know what to expect and this type of a trip worked just fine. On our second trip, as you see from my report, we travelled quite a lot because we had more time and felt more comfortable with the country.
It really depends on what type of vacation you want and whether you feel comfortable traveling around in a foreign country with bad roads.
Have a great trip.
 
Mar 1st, 2002, 07:31 AM
  #15  
Heidi
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Nice trip report...
We are heading to CR in May for two weeks. We are planning on going to Tamarindo for 8 or 9 nights. Do you think that we would get bored being there for that long or is there lots to do there? What kind of day trips and tours would you recommend? We really want to stay in one spot and do tours from there. We would really love to stay at Capitan Suizo but it is a bit too expensive for us... can you recommend any other nice places in Tamarindo that would be close to the beach and a little less expensive?
Thanks so much for your time..
Heidi
 
Mar 1st, 2002, 03:16 PM
  #16  
Iza
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I think that 8 or 9 nights in Tamarindo may be too long, but it really depends on what you are looking for. If all you want is R&R by the pool and on the beach, then go for it (I certainly would not mind spending 9 days at Capitan Suizo;-)). If you are looking for adventure then split your stay with some other locations. Tamarindo is great but too far away if you want to take day trips to other tourist places like Arenal, Tabacon, Manuel Antonio.
Other places to stay in Tamarindo: we stayed at Jardin del Eden and did not like it very much, and it is only a bit less than Capitan Suizo. There is a bed and breakfast type of a place right next to Capitan Suizo, I believe it is called Casa Cook - it looked very nice from the beach, but I am not sure about their prices. In general, we prefer the southern end of the beach in Tamarindo, it is quieter and less peopled. The northern end is occupied mostly by young surfers and much busier. There are less expensive places that people mention: Best Western, Tamarindo Diria, Hotel Pasatiempo but they are all located on or near the northern part of the beach which as I said is much busier (if you prefer that then one of these places would work for you).
Check out www.tamarindo.com in the part called Showcase, there is a number of options for places to stay.
Good luck.
 
Jun 17th, 2002, 12:11 PM
  #17  
Iza
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Topping for Laura.
 
Jul 8th, 2002, 07:08 AM
  #18  
Iza
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Topping for Kathy.
 
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